Since the middle of the 18th century, the village of Borsang has specialized In the creation of unique and colorful hand-crafted products made of Chiangmai's native bamboo and fine natural paper made from the bark of the local Sa tree. The best known of these is the hand painted decorative umbrellas. Not long ago the leading symbol of Chiangmai's handicraft products and still one of the leading products of northern Thailand. Today, Borsang is one of Chiangmai's many cottage Industry handicraft center and the Bamboo and Sa Paper lines are still the most prominent.
On a stretch of road that leads east off the main Sankampaeng Road about ten kilometers south of Chiangmai, the village of Borsarng begins. The Sa Paper umbrella makers have their factories and showrooms set up in this area, some along the Sankampaeng Road Itself, most along the smaller village road.
Sa Paper got its start in Chiangmai so many centuries ago because of the abundance of the Sa tree. It is a small tree with light brown bark that grows in tall clumps like large bushes and with full drooping green leaves that blossom out from the middle upward. Many of Borsarng's centers have Sa trees on the grounds, now decorated with umbrellas.
The production process today is just as it was 200 years ago. All stages are accomplished by hand with the aid of some basic rural tools. The two materials used in the making of Borsarng's umbrellas and other related products, Sa Paper and Bamboo, are worked separately by skilled workers and then combined for the finished product.
The process of making Sa Paper, which can be viewed in the work areas of Borsarng's umbrella centers, is intriguing. Bark is taken from the Sa tree and boiled in a large tin drum for approximately three hours. It is then pounded with large wooden mallets against tree stumps until it is smooth and flat mush. Even at this point, the raw bark is an off-white color, the natural color of Sa Paper. After pounding its thrown into large concrete vats where it is stirred with long bamboo poles until flakes rise to the surface. These flakes are lifted out with blue screens on wood frames. Each screen measures approximately 1 1/2 by 2 feet and the flakes settle and congeal on the screen while the water runs through. The screens are then set in the sunlight for the final stage of the paper-making process, drying, which takes about 20 minutes.
The process involved in creating the bamboo frames requires a skill and patience equal to making Sa Paper and the final step of painting the handicrafts.
Something that Thailand has plenty of is raw bamboo that is cut from the nearby bamboo forests, and chopped into workable tubular pieces. These bamboo tubes are soaked in an insecticide solution to eliminate any type of harmful pests or micro-organisms, and then they-re cut into thin bamboo strips that are used for the frames. After the frames have been constructed, they are immersed again in the insecticide solution and set to dry.
The top of the umbrella, and the shaft, is tooled by specialists working on treadmill wood carving machines of the old-fashioned type once used throughout northern Thailand. A craftsman sits on a high stool, has a hand-lathe fixed in wood before him, and pedals a lever near the ground that starts and moves the lathe. A single red flag on a wire hangs above him and comes down with every successful move of his foot against the pedal. Since the pedal is air-powered, this flag is important in letting the workman know that the lathe is getting the energy to move properly. The umbrella shafts are then assembled by hand and the frames and shafts are put together, ready for the Sa Paper covering.
The traditional Chiangmai floral and bird motifs still account for many of Borsarng's designs. There is also a broad choice in the Chinese Dragon motif, butterflies, and any number of other classic northern Thai designs.
Sizes may Vary from the smallest 4-inch umbrella or fan model, primarily used as table decorations or give-away souvenirs, to the very large 2-meter models. The large sizes are useful as decorations for the lawn or as an overhang on the patio or in a spacious living room. One maker at Borsarng made an extremely large Bamboo and Sa Paper umbrella for a nearby Khantoke Dinner Restaurant in Borsarng that covers one entire dining area of the restaurant. It is huge.
There is no limit to the size or to the design of an Sa Paper umbrella or fan at Borsarng and there is also no limit to the type of product. Now, at some of the Sa Paper centers, products include beautiful hand-painted hanging or standing lanterns with delicate motifs and pleasing color schemes. The more innovative centers are making Sa Paper blinds or wall-hangings with ribbed bamboo structures behind clean white paper decorated with attractive floral patterns.
A visit to Borsarng will give all visitors an opportunity to view these unique and artful creations in Bamboo and Sa Paper, and to view the craftsmen at work. In the newer lantern and hanging blind lines, there is plenty to choose from. Of course in the traditional Chiangmai umbrella and fan lines many new designs are added regularly to Borsarng's already rich variety of Sa Paper products.
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